Catering- So Many Options!

Booking a Caterer

When you begin tackling your wedding planning list it can be difficult to decide what to do first, in what order, and how everything works together. One of the most important tasks on your list of wedding ‘to-dos’ is going to be catering.

Look at the options venues are offering you. Some require use of their in-house catering, some have a preferred list of caterers, and some have no preference. You should also start with a good idea of what you expect the food to be like and the style. Do you think you’ll do buffet, family, plated? Take into account how many people you plan on inviting as well, as the catering usually consists of a significant portion of your overall budget.

There are so many options when it comes to catering and you must decide what is most important to you, and let that dictate your decisions. If food is your focus, a smaller guest list will allow you to provide a multiple course meal. If you have a large guest list but still want to keep costs down, consider the serving styles your caterer offers and compare the prices. You could also cut down on the courses you’ll serve and the options you’ll give your guests. Typically, limiting your guests to only, say, green beans rather than green beans or corn can cut down the price per guest by a few dollars.

Each has their pro’s and con’s:

  • In-House Catering means the venue has a staff that prepare, cook, and serve the food for your guests. They handle cleanup and dishes and may also staff the bar. All of this is usually considered into the cost of the venue. If the venue is offering an in-house caterer they typically are not open to you bringing in any outside catering aside from the cake or bar if that’s not in their services. Look at the style options they give to see if these will suit your needs. Booking the venue with the caterer included may be the easiest decision you make!

  • Preferred List of Caterers means the venue partners with various catering companies and may insist you can only use those on the list, though some may be more flexible. Perks to picking a caterer from a venue’s preferred list is you know for a fact that all of the catering companies listed are familiar with the space and the amenities available to them. This makes it much less likely that a fluke will happen due to unforeseen circumstances. (HUGE PLUS!)

  • Outside Catering means the venue allows you to bring in your own caterer, or do the catering yourself. If you choose to bring in a caterer make sure you go over all of your concerns with them prior to signing a contract or making a down payment. You want to be sure the caterer has plenty of experience with the number of guests you anticipate inviting, they have the menu options you are looking for and they have the style you are looking for. If you choose to cater yourself, make sure you talk to the venue owner about what is required of you to do this. Ask them if they have any advice for you, if they have experience with people self-catering, and what they can provide you with in way of kitchen amenities and supplies. You want to make sure you know whether you’ll have to make the food beforehand and bring it to the venue the day of/ night before or if you can have the food made the day off at the venue before all of the guests arrive. The venue might also require a liability insurance to be bought for the day of as well so make sure you ask them what the protocol on that is if you have decided self-catering isn’t for you, make sure you have all of our bases covered when you talk to your caterer.

  • When meeting with potential caterers ask about liability insurance, liquor licenses, and any hidden fees. Better safe than sorry when considering wait staff gratuity, cake cutting and plating fees, and corking fees for any alcohol you bring in yourself. Ask what their policy is for guests who don’t show up as well. Consider your guests dietary restrictions such as gluten allergies, and lactose intolerance. Make sure your caterer provides alternative options if you have guests with those restrictions. You want to be prepared so that the day of the wedding you know your guests are satisfied and your vendors are taken care of financially.

If you’re narrowing down your list of caterers and you are torn between the serving styles they offer or if you have a caterer picked but have no idea how you want your guests served; take these things into account. There are pros and cons to all of the serving options so thinking about what you want, the layout of the venue, and the timeline for the night is essential.

  • Plated Style: With this option your guests typically choose the food they want for the night on the RSVP card they send back to you proclaiming “YES, of course I’ll be there!” Typically you give guests two to three main course options to choose from and sides match the main course they have chosen or are the same for everyone. What is great about this option is that each guest gets normal portion sizes and less food is wasted from guests being over ambitious filling their plate. With smaller venues, this is beneficial also because servers deliver the food to each table, eliminating the crowd of people coming toward the food and waiting in a line. There is more time for the guests to mingle with the people surrounding them as well! One thing to be careful of is to ask your caterer how they keep all of the food hot for the guests who are getting their food last. The food is usually prepared all at once and then plated for each table. This runs the risk of the food for the first served being hot and last served being lukewarm by the time they are served.  

  • Buffet Style: This is a great choice if you’d like to provide many different options so each guest can customize their meal for the night. There are still a limited number of main dishes and sides available but each guest goes to the buffet with the choice to accept or decline the options given. There is a misconception that having a buffet is a cheaper option. This can be the case in some scenarios but with a buffet, guests are allowed to take more than a typical portion, more food has to be kept out, and at the end of the night you are left with more food because you had to overestimate. If you do decide on a buffet for your wedding it is best to have your DJ or caterer dismiss each table of guests in an orderly fashion so the line never gets absurdly long and guests can get back to their seats as quickly as possible.

  • Family Style: This is where food is served to the tables on platters or large plates and the guests can serve themselves. Servers bring enough food out for each table and leave it for the guests to disperse amongst themselves.  This works great for smaller groups, or when you would like to have a more intimate setting. Like the buffet style it can leave leftovers, but can also keep your guests from walking around.

  • Action Station Style: This style has been growing in popularity, having set up 3-5 different stations around the venue that have specialty meals such as sushi, tacos, sandwiches, etc. This can be a little more on the expensive side, but is a very unique way of feeding your guests.

More and more these days’ people are going nontraditional routes when it comes to weddings so this is in no way an exhaustive list of ways to feed the guests at your wedding! Explore for yourself all of the options out there and don’t forget to think outside of the box. There are so many things to think about when it comes to catering; hopefully this will give you some insights on how to choose the catering style that’s perfect for you.